History of Cow Domestication

Cow Ancestor Cattle is a general term referring to the four-legged mammal of the genus Bos which was the domestication […]

domesticated cattle
image source: commons.wikimedia.org

Cow Ancestor

Cattle is a general term referring to the four-legged mammal of the genus Bos which was the domestication of the long-extinct wild auroch ( Bos primigenius ). In general, there are two types of domestic cattle that are commonly raised by humans: humped cattle ( Bos indicus ) or commonly referred to as zebu cattle originating from Asia and humpless cattle ( Bos taurus ).) or commonly referred to as taurine cattle originating from mainland Europe. The Spanish fighting cow (many incorrectly refer to it as the banteng) and the Javan banteng are close relatives of the domestic cattle because they are also members of the genus Bos. Wild aurochs, which are the ancestors of cattle, lived during the Pleistocene to several centuries ago. These animals are similar to cattle, but with a larger size and more aggressive nature than domesticated cattle. The last wild auroch died in 1627 in the forests of Jaktorow, Poland.

The auroch skeleton and its size comparison with humans
Auroch framework ( Bos primigenius) source: commons.wikimedia.org

Auroch Domestication

Ajmone-Marsan et al (2010:149) reveal that the oldest evidence of domestication of this auroch indicates a period between 8,800 to 8,300 years BC, or more than 10,000 years ago in the young stone age. The available genetic and archaeological evidence also indicates that the domestication of these aurochs did not occur only once in one place, but occurred two or three times in different places. Hirst (2019) explains that the domestication of aurochs occurred three times, one each in southwest Asia, the Indus Valley, and Africa.

The humpless cow ( Bos taurus ) is the domesticated product of Bos p. primigenius since about 10,500 years ago in the fertile crescent area . This Fertile Crescent consists of a number of areas that are now parts of the countries of Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq that form the crescent moon on the map. Di Lorenzo et al (2016:71 ) in their article mentions that the domestication of Bos taurus is most likely to occur in the western region of the Turkey-Syria border, which is still a fertile crescent region . Boss taurus speciesoriginating from this region then spread to Turkey, the Balkans, and even reached the northern part of Italy. Based on archaeological findings, this Bos taurus spread to Europe via the Mediterranean coastline and also routes along the Danube River (Ajmone-Marsan  et al , 2010:150). About 5,000 years later, Boss Taurus also appears in northeastern Asia (Mongolia, China, Korea).

Fertile crescent area, one of the places where the domestication of aurochs started
Fertile crescent area . Source: britannica.com

The second domestication of aurochs occurred about 7,000 years ago, or 3,000 years after the first domestication. This second domestication took place in the Indus Valley which is now part of Pakistan and parts of India. This is where the domestication of the Bos primigenius namadicus species began and resulted in the Bos Indicus (humped cow) species, which is also known as the zebu cow. This zebu cow then spread from its original area in the Indus Valley to China and Southeast Asia. Between 2,500 and 3,500 years ago, zebu cattle also migrated to East Africa.

Possible Domestication in Africa

Finally, there is also the possibility of domestication in Africa around 8,000-9,000 years ago, with the species possibly involved being Bos taurus or Bos taurus africanus . Compared to the other two domestication events, the domestication of aurochs in Africa is still unclear and the possibility of its occurrence is still debated by experts. It is estimated that this third auroch domestication occurred in southeastern Africa. The remains of the Bos taurus species were found in what is now part of Egypt. Relics indicating domestication were found at sites such as Nabta Playa, Bir Kiseiba, Wadi El-Arab, and El-Barga. There are significant differences between the Bos taurus species found in Africa and the speciesBoss taurus from other regions, where species living in Africa have resistance to trypanosomosis disease caused by the tsetse fly (Hirst, 2019).

Domestication of aurochs for a long time has produced human domesticated cows that have various benefits. Humans consume cow’s meat and milk as food, and process other parts of the cow’s body such as horns, bones, and skin into various crafts. Cows also have an important role in the traditions of a number of religions and cultures.


  • Ajmone-Marsan, P., Garcia, JF, & Lenstra, JA (2010). On the origin of cattle: how aurochs became cattle and colonized the world. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews , 19 (4), 148–157.
  • Britannica, TE of E. (2020). Fertile Crescent . https://www.britannica.com/place/Fertile-Crescent
  • Di Lorenzo, P., Lancioni, H., Ceccobelli, S., Curcio, L., Panella, F., & Lasagna, E. (2016). Uniparental genetic systems: A male and a female perspective in the domestic cattle origin and evolution. Electronic Journal of Biotechnology , 23 , 69–78.
  • Hirst, KK (2019). History of Domestication of Cows and Yaks . https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-domestication-of-cows-170652
  • Pitt, D., Sevane, N., Nicolazzi, EL, MacHugh, DE, Park, SDE, Colli, L., Martinez, R., Bruford, MW, & Orozco-terWengel, P. (2019). Domestication of cattle: Two or three events? Evolutionary Applications , 12 (1), 123–136.

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